Few veterans access health care benefits

89.6% of veterans don’t receive VA care and benefits

More stories from Samantha Geiger


SUBMITTED by Tim Admire, Warrior Support Coordinator with the Wounded Warrior Project

http://New Recording 7.m4a

Vietnam veteran speaks on his experience with the Veterans Affair and there said to be a bad reputation. Veterans Affairs, also known as the VA, is a part of the Cabinet-level executive branch of the federal government that provides life-long healthcare services to all eligible military veterans. What the public eye doesn’t know are the underlying issues that are festering within the organization.

         A study was done in 2007 by Karin Nelson a Primary and Specialty Medical Care services, Gordon Starkebaum also a Primary and Specialty Medical Care services, and Gayle Reibar a Health Services researcher, to examine veteran reliance on VA care services. The study showed the percentages of veterans who fully receive VA care, who receive some of the VA care benefits and who don’t receive VA care.

         In the study, Nelson, Starkebaum and Reibar found that 6.2% of veterans reported receiving all their health care at the VA, 6.9% reported receiving only some of their health care at the VA and lastly, 86.9% reported not receiving VA care.

         Long waiting lists, rising costs and the lack of access to VA hospitals are key reasons veterans are not taking advantage of government health care to which the VA is working on fixing, according to Tim Admire, Warrior Support Coordinator with the Wounded Warrior Project as well as Chaplain Care Protector veteran.

         Clint Rudesill, a Vietnam veteran, was a close air support controller also referred to as CAS.

“My duties were providing airborne firepower to my troops on the ground who were operating in close proximity to the enemy, North Vietnam,” Rudesill said.

After returning home from Vietnam, Rudesill was eligible for VA care, but at the time he, along with his fellow soldiers, didn’t think highly of the VA care system.

The trusted doctors the veterans liked weren’t paid enough by the government to stay around, Rudesill said. While he is one of the few who were able to receive healthcare elsewhere, he knows other veterans who struggled to both access and trust VA care.

“I knew of a fellow veteran who lived in the woods because of his mental health being so bad, he didn’t receive the care he needed from the VA to be able to get back on his feet and get his head on straight,” Rudesill said.

Rudesill received healthcare outside of the VA system but later was able to start receiving care with VA. The closest VA hospital to him is in Minneapolis but he was pleasantly surprised to learn that there is a VA clinic for general doctor appointments in Chippewa.

         “In my experience, the location of VA hospitals and facilities, as well as the stigmas of the VA, has been the biggest two challenges,” Admire said.  

         Veterans talk with one another and tell each other which hospital they received bad care at and which hospitals they received good care at. After a while, the word gets around and a lot of veterans end up not receiving VA care because of the lack of trust they have in the system. Trust within veterans is crucial.

         To fix some underlying issues, the VA implemented the Mission act in 2019, which was put in place to strengthen the nationwide VA Health Care System by empowering veterans with more health care options, such as expanded telehealth and urgent care, according to the Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs.

         Rudesill and his fellow veteran friends aren’t the only ones to think the VA has a bad reputation. In April of 2019, Navy veteran Gary Pressley took his own life in a VA hospital parking lot, in Georgia.

         Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, author of the scholarly article “Why Can’t the VA Get It Together?”, wrote that he was not the first and most likely will not be the last.

Before committing suicide, Pressley was going through pain medication withdrawals after his private doctor stopped taking veterans in February of 2019 due to the unpaid reimbursements the VA owed to the practice.

         Pressley had repeatedly tried to get an appointment with the VA as he was a patient through the VA before being referred to the private practice. During Pressley’s lawsuit case against the VA, a VA spokeswoman refused to comment.

         “The VA budget totals have increased every year since 9/11…But the issue is not how much, but how it is being spent,” Beaucar Vlhas wrote. “As one veteran advocate who works for a law firm specializing in disability claims put it, the money gets spread around with no heed to changing demands.”

         Admire said, VA care in the past was a lot worse than it is in mainstream society today with the new leadership.

         As a Chaplain Care Protector, he assisted the Chaplain and protected him. He helped set up various religious services, working with the active-duty members in their faith and how to practice faith. Admire was deployed back in 2009 when Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who was convicted of killing 13 people and injuring more than 30 others in the Fort Hood mass shooting. 

He was able to take hold of that situation and keep the soldiers abroad and deployed calm and was able to communicate with the Red Cross and their families making sure that they are all taken care of. He said his job was very diverse and each day wasn’t the same.

         The Wounded Warrior Project, also known as WWP, is a charity and veterans service organization that was formed after Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York City. They provide a variety of programs and services as well as events for wounded veterans of the military. They also provide mental health services to all veterans.

“The main issue with the VA care is the long waiting lists for sure, with me included personally I go outside of the VA now for my mental health care,” Admire said.

         Every region that has a VA hospital is different. Admire said there are some hospitals that provide excellent care to veterans and there are some that don’t provide good care. The veterans talk with one another and give advice on which VA hospital is the best one.

         Much like Rudesill, a lot of Vietnam veterans don’t have the access to a lot of care like Admire and other veterans do, and they rely more on the VA for care and services. 

WWP partners closely with other programs that assist with a wide variety of issues like medical aid, mental health and finances. Admire said the WWP and other organizations help to balance out while the VA doesn’t do anything. After contacting the VA in Eau Claire regarding the issues with veterans struggling to receive their healthcare benefits, they respectfully denied an interview.

         “Veterans are unique. They are trained at a very high level to depend on being taken care of whether that be a squad leader for their unit or command teams,” Admire said. “Veterans are built on trust, and they lose hope quickly. If they don’t trust you, they won’t tell you their problems or what’s hurting them.”

         According to Admire’s personal opinion, if there were a lineup of ten veterans, only half of them would sign up for VA care. The other half will have reservations and a lack of trust in the VA system. The VA services a large population and it’s a daunting task to get the care up to the level that the veterans deserve.

Admire said if he could change one thing about the VA care system it would be quicker response times so veterans aren’t waiting six to seven months waiting to be seen by a doctor again. The WWP offers faster responses to veterans and offers medical and mental health care to help the VA. WWP also offers an employment program that helps veterans with resume building, interviewing preparation as well as placement assistance.

         Beaucar Vlhas wrote that VA care is preferred by veterans when the VA care is working. The private sector on the other hand offers choices to veterans who can’t access superior care like VA care. Veterans served this country and risked their lives. They should have the option to come back and receive full adequate care.